The article “Parent perceptions of changes in eating behavior during COVID-19 of school-aged children from Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) eligible households in California” was recently published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports. The study examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the eating behaviors of school-aged children from households with low income eligible for the Supplemental Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) in California. Researchers assessed parent perceptions of changes in their children's eating habits throughout the pandemic, identifying shifts in dietary patterns that included a decreased use of school meals, and other changes observed by parents such as cooking at home, fast food, and fruits and vegetable consumption. The research underscores the need for tailored strategies in schools and at home to support the nutritional well-being of children during future public health emergency conditions. The study was led by Nutrition Policy Institute researchers Suzanne Rauzon, Sri Hewawitharana, Erin Esaryk, Hannah Thompson, Gail Woodward-Lopez, and California Department of Public Health co-authors Lauren Whetstone and Ingrid Cordon.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children—also known as WIC—serves nearly half of children born in the US at some point before their fifth birthday. WIC participation enhances food security, diet quality, and developmental outcomes of children. The program offers a Cash Value Benefit to purchase fruits and vegetables, and additional benefits to purchase other specific healthy foods. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cash Value Benefits were increased from $9 for children and $11 for women to $25 for children, $44 for pregnant and postpartum women and $49 for breastfeeding women in June 2021. These higher amounts will end on September 30, 2023 without Congressional action. The Nutrition Policy Institute and Heluna Health's Public Health Foundation Enterprises-WIC Program released a policy brief highlighting research showing that the increased Cash Value Benefit improves participants' produce purchases, fruit and vegetable consumption, food security and satisfaction with WIC, and increased sales for farmers and local retailers. Extension of this benefit is critical as one-in-seven participants reported they were somewhat or very unlikely to continue on WIC if benefits decrease.
Recent research shows that increased Cash Value Benefit amounts for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children—commonly known as WIC—to purchase fruits and vegetables was associated with greater amounts and variety of fruits and vegetables purchased. The US Department of Agriculture's response to the COVID-19 pandemic increased the Cash Value Benefit for children from $9 per month to $25 per month, effective until September 30, 2023. The Cash Value Benefit will revert to a lower amount without Congressional action. Analyzing purchasing data for 1,578 families with 1,770 children participating in WIC in Los Angeles County, the study found significant increases in amounts purchased for 53 of 54 evaluated fruits and vegetables, and significant increases in diversity of purchased fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and total fresh produce following the increase to the Cash Value Benefit. Findings are important as expanding fruit and vegetable variety in children's diets improves diet quality and acceptance of fruits and vegetables, which is foundational for lifelong healthy eating habits. Results support the continuation of the increased Cash Value Benefit. The study was published in the journal Current Developments in Nutrition by Christopher Anderson, Catherine Yepez, and Shannon E. Whaley from Heluna Health's Public Health Foundation Enterprises-WIC Program, Lauren Au from the University of California, Davis, and Marisa Tsai and Lorrene Ritchie from the Nutrition Policy Institute at the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. The study was funded by Healthy Eating Research, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation.
Nutrition Policy Institute researchers were awarded a $199,786 grant from the California Collaborative for Pandemic Recovery and Readiness Research Program, also known as CPR3. The grant funds a collaborative project with NPI principal investigator Lorrene Ritchie, co-principal investigator Susana Matias from the University of California, Berkeley and the CACFP Roundtable. The project, “Child and Adult Care Food Program: Impacts of COVID-19 Changes to Meal and Snack Reimbursement Rates on Family Childcare Home Providers, Children and Families – Phase 2”, builds on a current project to understand the impact of COVID-19 changes to CACFP reimbursement rates for family child care homes on CACFP participation, food quality, and food security. The one-year project began on July 1, 2023 and includes Kassandra Bacon as project manager, Celeste Felix as data analyst, Reka Vasicsek as research coordinator, Meirong Liao as Administrative Coordinator, Hannah Thompson as statistical consultant, and Ken Hecht as policy advisor. A goal of the CPR3 Program is to generate policy-relevant evidence to improve the health and well-being of California residents in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CPR3 Program is funded by the California Department of Public Health. California Department of Public Health will not be involved in study design, data collection, data analysis and interpretation, manuscript development, or the decision to publish.
A recent study examined changes in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education programming by California's local health departments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local health department SNAP-Ed programs comprise California's largest obesity prevention program. In March 2020, when schools and other institutions closed their doors in response to the COVID-19 emergency, the impact on public health programs like SNAP-Ed was immediate and large. As the pandemic continued, California's local health departments reported numerous challenges, including the diversion of staff, funding, and other resources from programs like SNAP-Ed to emergency response. Nutrition Policy Institute researchers measured the changes in local health department SNAP-Ed programming and documented dramatic reductions in reach and dose during the early stages of the pandemic. Reductions disproportionately impacted disadvantaged communities, including those with higher poverty, higher proportions of Black and Latino residents, and less healthy neighborhood conditions. Disproportionately reduced access to important health programs may have worsened health disparities in diet and physical activity-related chronic diseases, as well as increasing susceptibility to COVID-19. This study demonstrates the importance of an equity-centered approach to promoting healthy eating and active living, even—or perhaps especially—during public health emergencies. Study results were published in the journal SSM-Population Health by Gail Woodward-Lopez, Erin Esaryk, Sridharshi Hewawitharana, Janice Kao, Evan Talmage, and Carolyn Rider of NPI with funding from the USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education.